Saturday, March 25, 2006

My Big Book of Stories and Rhymes by Peter Stevenson

As an avid reader myself, I am a firm believer that every child should grow up around books. My son is only three years old, but he already has a book collection that would rival those of many adults that I know, at least in terms of sheer numbers. Although it might seem like it, I do not indiscriminately purchase books for my son. I spend a lot of time at the bookstore looking through the children's section, and I only buy the ones that seem to be both educational and entertaining. That's precisely what My Big Book of Stories And Rhymes illustrated by Peter Stevenson is.

My Big Book of Stories And Rhymes is an oversized volume that would look big even on an adults bookshelf, so it positively dwarfs the other books on my son's shelf. Its 383 pages of text and illustrations are divided into four separate parts. They are: Teddy Bear Tales, Animal Stories, Nursery Rhymes, and Nursery Tales. I've discovered that these different sections are appropriate for different ages. Thus, my son loves and understands the Nursery Rhymes and several of the Animal Stories, but many of the Nursery Tales and all of the Teddy Bear Tales are too long and involved to hold his attention. Nevertheless, I decided to purchase the book because it seems like something that will last for many years.

The Teddy Bear Tales section consists of 14 different stories and 5 poems about different kinds of teddy bears. Like children, all of the teddy bears featured in the stories have very different personalities. Some are good little teddy bears, while some like to misbehave. Some are outgoing, some are shy. All of the stories are wholesome and instructive, so once your child is able to understand and follow the plots, I'm sure these Teddy Bear Tales would be entertaining.

The Animal Stories section consists of 20 shorter stories and 7 poems about many different kinds of animals. The stories were written by several authors, including Joan Stimson, Nicola Baxter, Tony Bradman, Lucille Hammond, and Jane Resnick. Many of the stories serve to break "stereotypes" or show the animal characters triumphing over their shortcomings. For example, there is a tale about a duck that doesn't like the rain. There is also a story about a penguin who is scared of learning to swim, but eventually gathers enough courage to give it a try. Although I don't think my son understood much about these stories, they are short enough for me to get through without him getting too restless and fidgety.

The Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Tales sections are the best for my son at his particular age right now. The editor of the book chose to include almost all of the nursery rhymes that I remember from my own childhood, plus quite a few that I either forgot or just never heard of. So, you'll get things like "Jack and Jill," "Old Mother Hubbard," "Three Blind Mice," "Hot Cross Buns," "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe," "Humpty Dumpty," and many, many more, for a total of 151 nursery rhymes in all. This section is my son's favorite by far, and he has a ball reciting the shorter ones that he knows by heart. The Nursery Tales section contains shortened versions of familiar stories such as "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," "Cinderella," and "The Three Little Pigs." Again, I don't think that my son can actually follow the entire plot very well, but he at least sits still and listens for a bit.

I have to say that I am truly impressed by My Big Book of Stories and Rhymes. There are obviously lots of different nursery rhyme collections out there, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest, in my opinion. First of all, it has wonderfully detailed illustrations that make the stories, tales, rhymes, and poems come alive. So in addition to just listening to me read from the book, my son loves to examine the pictures and identify the particular characters that each story is talking about. In fact, I have to go so far as to say that this exact same volume without the illustrations wouldn't nearly be as interesting to any child.

If I were to identify one thing that I didn't like about My Big Book of Stories and Rhymes, I would have to say it's the size and bulk of the thing. This is a pretty big and heavy book, and is too unwieldy for a smaller toddler to handle by him- or herself. In all fairness, the book doesn't have any suggested ages listed on it, and it has paper pages. This leads me to believe that it is probably for slightly older children, possibly in the 4-8 year old range. Certainly children of that age would be able to lug the book around by themselves, so that won't be an issue for you if you have an older child at home.

Other than the size and bulk, I have no complaints about this book. It was truly a fantastic find, and my son wants me to read from it every single day. Another great thing about this book is that it is so comprehensive. So if you are pressed for space or funds, you could simply buy this single volume instead of having to buy 10 or more separate books containing similar stories and rhymes. You have nothing to lose by giving this book a try!

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